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Can I Give Charity to a Thief, a Prostitute or a Non-deserving Person During Ramadan?

 

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published in Huff Post Religion on July 9, 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-zahidi/can-i-give-charity-to-a-t_b_5553031.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Pakistan is internationally known for many things. For the surge of extremism. For the footballs we supplied to the World Cup. For an often exaggerated emphasis on the “miseries” of its people. But it is lesser known for being one of the most charitable nations in the world. It is amazing how much the people of this country give and share. The sense of giving back to one’s community is deeply ingrained in our system. We give whether we are rich or poor. We share whether we ourselves have enough or not. If you are in Pakistan in Ramadan especially, on every signal you will be handed over boxes of dates and bottles of water. Outside homes, on sidewalks or in mosques, makeshift feasts await you. At a recent journalism moot in Mexico, a friend from South Africa nailed it when she said “I think it has a lot to do with how much Islam stresses charity.”

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN

This is true. We take the idea very seriously that charity washes away sins, wards off bad luck, wins us the pleasure of Allah and lands us in Paradise. In Ramadan, the reward, as per our belief, is multiplied into 70. So Ramadan is when all good causes like education, public health and food insecurity make enough money to last the next 11 months.

Yet, in the same country, I have witnessed communities waiting for hand-me-downs and food, with not a rupee of charity flowing towards them. The reason has been nothing but misplaced judgment.
More than once, my research as a journalist led me to the most infamous red light district in Pakistan. Heera Mandi, in Lahore, has since the time of Mughals housed courtesans, dancers and commercial sex workers. But time has been unkind to the people here. Today, most of them have moved away to better, more lucrative localities as escorts. What remains is a ghetto of very poor women, runaway or orphaned children and some scattered members of the marginalized transgender community. And no one wants to give charity to the people of Heera Mandi.

“We are dirty. We are in the filthy business. So no one gives us anything,” said a disgruntled 20 something sex worker when I visited. It was a Friday, the holy day of the week for Muslims. Incense burnt in her shoddy apartment to create an ambiance of purity. The woman had bathed and prayed that day. Ramadan was a few days away. “I wish someone would give me enough food or money that I can at least not have to do this work in Ramadan. I need a break, too to pray to God.”
On my return, I asked around if anyone wanted to donate for them. No one opted.

This attitude is not reserved for sex workers only, and not specific to Pakistan. Neither is this brand of judgment or ostracization specific to Muslims. A friend from Manchester shared that a project trying to collect donations for inmates in jails got a similar response. “They would say, ‘will our charity go towards feeding a killer or a thief?'”

For years, as both a student and teacher of Islamic Studies, I have wondered why we pass judgments on the ones we give charity to. Is their “good character” a pre-requisite to give them charity?

Thus, in giving, we place ourselves on a pedestal of piety. And this idea is not in synch with what the Qur’an endorses or what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practically did.

There is a prophetic tradition narrated in the Saheeh Bukhari that tells us that there was once a man who decided that that very night he would give charity. Accordingly, he set out with his charity and gave it to a thief. The next day people began to say, ‘Last night a thief was given charity!’ So the man supplicated, ‘O Allah, to You belongs all the praise. I shall give some more charity again.’

Once again he set off with his charity and gave it to a prostitute. The next day people began talking, ‘Last night charity was given to a prostitute.’ So the man supplicated again, ‘O Allah, I praise You for enabling me to give charity to even a prostitute; I will give some more charity yet again.’

He set out again with his charity and this time put it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people talked again, ‘Last night charity was given to a rich man.’ The man supplicated, ‘O Allah, all praise is Yours, I thank you for enabling me to give charity to a thief, a prostitute and to a rich man.’
Then, in a vision he was told, ‘The charity you gave to the thief might persuade him to stop stealing; your charity to the prostitute might persuade her give up her way of life. As for the rich man, he might learn a lesson from your charitable giving and start to spend from the Bounty that Allah has given him in charity.’

In the Battle of Badr between Muslims and the pagans of Mecca, the Muslim camp won and ended up with 70 prisoners of the pagans. These were people thirsty for their blood. But the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners well. So much stress was placed on showing compassion that the captors would give the captives their own bread, even at the risk of going hungry themselves.

What I have learnt from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is simple. That when I give, I give, without judging whether that person is deserving and pious, or not. It is not my place to do that. It is only God’s right to judge. Because my Merciful Lord continues to give me, whether I am deserving or not.

Ramazan diaries – From Makkah and Medinah

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: July 31, 2013

The millions are just tiny specks of people trying to get closer to the Ka’aba. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting in a lounge for the privileged, waiting to board a flight to Dubai and then another from there to Jeddah, I find myself texting away. I have a million things on my mind. I have a life.

Four hours later…

I’m at the Dubai airport, about to board a flight to Jeddah; the only words on my lips are:

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik

(I am here, my Allah (SWT). I am present.)

Prior to my flight, concerned friends had been warning me about a viral infection that is widespread in Makkah, and the unbelievable rush in Ramazan especially due to the underway expansion of the Masjid-ul-Haram.

“You should not have gone in Ramazan.”

I am going anyway. It is my ‘calling’. I have been called, right? He who has called me will manage.

A seven-day detox:

Paradigm shift within hours, change of heart within minutes, priorities falling into place within seconds – this is precisely what a visit to Makkah and Madina does to you.

Here I am, one amongst millions. It’s suddenly clear. I may be important in my comfort zone but here, I am just one of them. And the millions, from a bird’s eye view, are just tiny specks of black and white, men in white and women mostly in black, all scurrying to get closer to the Ka’aba.

When the props fall off and masks wear off, I have nothing to hide behind. I am as real as it gets. In hordes of people and thousands of heads, I am only searching for my family. Perspective becomes clearer.

I go around in a pair of chappals (slippers) that I wouldn’t even dare to wear at a grocery market in Karachi. I have no access to the internet, which means I have no way of succumbing to moments of vain indulgences where I tweet about my achievements. Most of my suitcase remains packed as is. I learn to survive on basics.

My DSLR camera rests in the hotel room. I’m lapping up images through the lens of my eyes and heart. And these images are not Photoshopped, nor Lighthoused. This is hardcore spirituality – a reconnection of souls with their Creator.

Each step of this ‘ritual’ as we like to call it has been carefully designed to help us grow and cleanse to the fullest.

Yet, they say ‘I believe in spiritual but not rituals’? Nothing makes the spirit evolve and soar like these rituals. They were designed by the One who created the souls, right?

I can feel my system being flushed out of anger, resentment, pride and negativity, if any. I am also not taking as many medicines as I usually do, apart from the occasional Panadol. Food is simpler. Walks are more. Squatting in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque with my family and extended family, life is beautiful – simpler. I am happy.

The funeral prayer:

A unique act of worship that women don’t get the opportunity to do usually is praying the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer). In Makkah and Madina, after each namaz, it would be called out:

“As-salaat ‘ala al-amwaat-i yarhamukumAllah”

(Prayer for that the dead [so that] Allah’s (SWT) mercy be upon you).

I selfishly join in. When my time comes, I want that many prayers for me.

Makkah the powerful; Medinah the soothing:

Makkah is intense, and comes on strong. Its landscape is dry; its people are strong and goodhearted but tough. How did my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) manage to plant faith and compassion in the hearts of Makkah’s people? I wonder. But it was this very toughness that enabled the people of Makkah to give the sacrifices they did and endure oppression and migration.

Medinah will always have oasis in sight. Promising date palms give away the hospitality of the people of this city from a distance. The land of the Ansaar (the helpers). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) chose to be here till his last day.

En route to Madina, the farms and farms of camels are a lovely sight – camels of all colours – fawn, brown, dark brown, white. Much like the diversity of people we meet in Makkah and Madina, they are all different, yet the same.

The clock tower makes me sad:

I am here after eight years. Taken aback by the sight of the humongous high rise structure in front of the first gate to the Ka’aba, this is my first meeting with the Makkah clock tower and the adjoining towering hotels. It looms higher than any of the minarets of the Haram. With millions of pilgrims visiting all year round, it is understandable that Makkah will need high-rise hotels. But so high and jarringly juxtaposed opposite the Haram? I cringe inside.

Without judging those who can afford and stay in these elite hotels just next to the Haram, the “towers” make me sad on another level too. Now, only the rich can afford to live right next to Haram. The poorer you are the farther you stay, the tougher it is for you to commute to the Masjid.

I prefer the earlier more eclectic mix of hotels all around the mosque, allowing both rich and poor to live close to it for the days they are there.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Afternoon siestas:

Makkah’s relentless summer heat is at its peak in the afternoon. If you’re fasting, the body’s reservoir of energy that we get from food is depleting, and a sluggish wave of drowsiness engulfs you. You lie down on the carpets or on the marble floor of the Haram, depending on where you get place, and doze off with your eyes fixed on the Ka’aba. Bliss!

The world’s best “all-you-can-eat”:

Iftar in both the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina is a unique and beautiful experience. I am at the receiving end of charity. It is something I will probably never get to experience in my homeland. Around Asar namaz, one sees people competing with each other and talking to the organisers to allow them to distribute Iftar in a certain part of the mosque.

At Maghrib time beautiful children appear from nowhere, distributing a variety of dates, laban (butter milk), zamzam water, and traditional Arabic kahwa, delicately scented and instantly refreshing.

Boxes of traditional Arabic saffron-treated rice and roasted whole chicken, with dates and small packs of juice are the popular menu in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The hospitality of the people of Medinah is not overrated. No one goes hungry.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

That moment

We all have our special moments. This time, I had my moment at Masjid-e-Nabawi on our last evening in Medinah. I had gone to pray at the Riazul Jannah (the place the Prophet (pbuh) called one of the gardens of paradise) and to offer Salam to my beloved Prophet (pbuh). It hit me where I was in that moment…and that I was going back home soon.

But there is so much I am taking back with me. When life pulls me down, I know now, more than ever, Who is there by my side, watching out for me – none other than my Allah, my Creator.

Published at : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18359/ramazan-in-makkah-reconnecting-with-my-merciful-creator/

Ramzan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem?

http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/16/ramazan-mubarak-or-ramadan-kareem.html

Ramzan Mubarak? Or Ramadan Kareem? Must I choose one of these?

 By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

As Ramadan began (yes, that’s what I call the Muslim holy month for fasting, guilty as charged), I was driving down a crowded road on Karachi. Besides the many attractive billboards with the Katrinas and the Deepikas selling Pakistani consumer items, a billboard caught my fancy. It had dates, a tasbeeh, a woman’s hands outstretched in earnest prayer, and gigantic letters in both English and Arabic saying “Ramadan Kareem”.

The Ramadan Kareem trend has caught on, yes. It is the “in” thing, the somewhat cooler way of greeting each other on the start of this most amazing of months for a Muslim. Facebook status updates are full of it. And it’s not just Ramadan Kareem. Let Eid come and you will be hearing a lot more of “Eid Saeed” then you have ever before. The hard-core pro-Arabic group will not like it when you say Ramzan Mubarak…..they will insist on using the more Arabic counterpart, and have a quizzical look if you don’t go along, a look which says “are you stuck in the ‘60s or what? Ramzan Mubarak? Who says that anymore?”.

But then there are those refuse to give up on what they fiercely guard as “our culture”. And so they hold on religiously (pun intended) to Ramzan Mubarak, and Eid Mubarak. If you dare say “Ramadan Kareem” in front of them, that’s a dead give away to them that you have frequented Saudi Arabia a bit too much or you are on way to becoming a “fundo”. They are offended by the “Al” and the “Bin” prefixes that we see on names of roadside Dhaabas, behind mini-busses and in the names of little boys studying in hoity toity elitest schools.

And then there are those who don’t know where to go, and in a state of confusion say “Ramazan” which is a multicultural cross-breed between “Ramadan” and “Ramzan”.

The discourse doesn’t really stop here. There is this volatile debate about whether we should use “Allah Hafiz” or “Khuda Hafiz”. While I personally prefer saying Allah Hafiz, I recall one incident in which I hurt someone’s sensibilities so much when I said “Khuda Hafiz” that she got up and left the room, announcing the word “Khuda” she cannot bear testimony to it by being present where it is uttered.

Hisham AlHadi, a young daa’ee (caller towards Islam) has had a multicultural experience having lived betweenPakistanandCanada. “To me, it’s important to know the meaning of the words we use. It’s not about Khuda Hafiz or Allah Hafiz. It’s about not using a better option which is also the Sunnah…..to say Assalamualaikum which is a prayer of peace, even when you say good bye. But yes, certain words offend my sensibilities. Why use words like ‘Allah Miyaan’ for Allah? It’s not about Arabic, Urdu or Persian. Do we ever really think about what we are saying?” says Hisham, saying what many Muslims believe.

“I think we as a society have become increasingly focused on rituals and outward acts. Anything Arabic, which is an outward expression, gives us a sense of inner religiosity. An Arabic greeting does not make us a better Muslim,” says Aurangzeb Haneef, who is himself trained in Classical Arabic at Harvard, and teaches Islamic Studies at LUMS. “Also, the politics of language and identity in the context of the Arab-Persian divide cannot be ignored. I believe there is more than a self-evolution of religious language here at play,” he says.

Haneef’s words echo what a lot of people believe….that the Back-to-Arabic phenomenon is not a random sign of reconnection with Islam and the Quran. That this may be reflective of Arab cultural imperialism. That Arabs in this last century have tried to reduce Persian influences on the Muslim world which included Persian being booted out. And it is done through financial help for religious studies and official patronage of these during certain political regimes.

But even if we were to believe this theory, the common person does not know all this. “It is important to be aware that expressions of faith in a particular language maybe the result of concerted efforts to influence collective sub-consciousness of a society. Being mindful of these processes lets informed choices be made about, say, using Allah or Khuda without being co-opted,” says Haneef.

However, for so many of us, Back-to-Arabic is actually an offshoot of having gone back to Islam.

As the writer of this blog, I have to say that I simply don’t mind either. I rather enjoy both the words “Kareem” (generous) and “Mubarak” (blessed). I call Ramadan “Ramadan”, not “Ramzan” for the simple reason that I enjoy pronouncing the word the way it is pronounced when recited as part of the Quran. Using words like “Alhamdulillah”, “Jazakallahu Khairan” and definitely more of “Assalamualaikum” in my everyday language is a natural evolution I have gone through as I have come closer to understanding the Quran in it’s original text in Arabic. Hence, I have developed an affinity for the language. To me, it is simply the language in which the Quran was revealed and which the Prophet (pbuh) spoke. I am attached to it. I enjoy using it.

But I have no issues with someone saying Khuda Hafiz to me. In a country with much bigger issues to worry about, this issue can further widen the gulf and create yet another sub-division in the ideological groups we are getting divided into. When our energies are spent into non-issues, the importance of the real issues is diluted. It is time we start looking for common grounds.

So to all of you, I say, “Ramadan Kareem and Khuda Hafiz”.

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